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Mesa Gulf Cement Barge Release

AUGUST 2, 2021 ─ On July 22, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) received notification of crude oil seeping into sensitive marsh habitat from a large storage tank struck by a bullet in Bayou Hermitage, Louisiana. USCG ventured onsite to discover not just the leaking oil storage tank, but several additional tanks, barges and abandoned containers left to the mercy of Mother Nature. 

Person in front of a damaged oil tank.
LTJG Lola Ajilore conducting the site assessment July 26, 2021. The actively leaking oil storage tank punctured by a bullet is visible directly behind her. Image credit: NOAA.

This production facility, once operated by Mesa Gulf, was abandoned prior to landfall of Hurricane Zeta last year.  The crew never returned. The barges supporting the derelict containers are rusted and fraught with gaping holes. Over 50 drums, most without labels and many just barely containing unknown materials, are haphazardly strewn about the decks.

The responsible party, Mesa Gulf, is bankrupt and thus not able to fulfill their obligation to safely remove the hazards to the environment. USCG has decided to take on this role by ‘federalizing’ the response. OR&R’s Emergency Response Division will be at their side to assist with understanding chemical and environmental hazards and to determine the most appropriate clean-up techniques.

On July 23, OR&R chemists provided USCG with critical information regarding one of the potential hazardous chemicals found onsite, phosphoric acid, and NOAA contractor, Research Planning, Inc., provided documentation describing the potential Resources at Risk. On July 26, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinators accompanied USCG onsite to assess the environmental hazards.  In addition to the abandoned and leaking containers, the team found evidence that oil had previously impacted the surrounding marsh. 

A ‘bathtub ring’ of oil staining the perimeter of marsh grasses suggests that oil likely impacted a larger area of marsh.  This discovery will result in further investigation of the area surrounding the facility.

The mitigation plan for this complex site will take several months to complete. A potential of over 300,000 gallons of oil and chemical hazards were left abandoned. First, the USCG must prioritize safety concerns like the integrity of the barge before clean-up of the oil and chemical hazards can begin. OR&R will continue to support the USCG throughout each step of the process.

For further information, contact Brandi.Todd@noaa.gov.

Abandoned drums on a deck.
Over 50 abandoned drums and totes in a variety of conditions litter the decks of the barges. Image credit: NOAA.
Oil visible on marsh grass.
A ‘bathtub ring’ of oil stains the perimeter of marsh grass adjacent to the site. Image credit: NOAA.
Last updated Friday, August 6, 2021 12:34pm PDT